A. I can see that it is important to cultivate wholesomeness, not only in our actions and speech but in our thinking as well. It is, however, important to think wholesome thoughts all the time because we have accumulated many defilements. When we think of the virtues of the Buddha there are at those moments wholesome thoughts, but we cannot continually think of wholesome things; we cannot help it that unwholesome thoughts arise many times during the day. How can we stop unwholesome thinking?
B. When we think of the Buddha's virtues and when we are grateful for the Dhamma he taught out of compassion for the world, it is a condition for wholesome thinking. We could visit the four holy places: the place of the Buddha's birth, of his enlightenment, of his first sermon and of his parinibbana. In visiting those holy places we give expression to our deep confidence in his teachings and our gratefulness for the Dhamma which even after 2,500 years can still help us now, at this very moment. The holy places remind us not to be neglectful of mindfulness; they are conditions for many kusala cittas.
When there are kusala cittas there are at those moments no conditions for unwholesome thinking, but it is not eradicated. Only by the cultivation of the eightfold Path, which is the development of insight, will unwholesome thinking eventually be eradicated. In the development of insight, when an unwholesome thought arises we do not try to suppress it; it has arisen already. It is a reality and thus we should know its characteristic. 'Maha-satipatthana' the four applications of mindfulness, includes all realities. When we learn there is nothing that cannot be the object of mindfulness, we will gradually realize that all phenomena are only nama and rupa. Thus when an unwholesome thought arises why can we not be aware of it as only a type of nama? When we know this characteristic more clearly, we will be less inclined to take it for self. So long as we are not yet arahats unwholesomeness is bound to arise. It can only be completely eradicated when one has attained arahatship.
A. I read that samma-sankappa or right thinking is one of the factors of the eightfold Path. Is samma-sankappa thinking of nama and rupa?
B. Samma-sankappa is the cetasika which is vitakka or thinking. Vitakka is usually translated in English as 'applied thought'. The Characteristic of vitakka is different from what we mean by the word 'thinking' as we use it in conventional language. The 'Visuddhimagga' (IV, 88) state about vitakka:
... It has the characteristic of directing the mind onto an object (mounting the mind on its object). Its function is to strike at and thresh.... It is manifested as the leading of the mind onto an object.
The vitakka of the eightfold Path, samma-sankappa (right thinking), arises together with samma-sati (right mindfulness). It arises with the citta which is mindful of the nama or rupa presenting itself at that moment through one of the six doorways. We saw that vitakka (thinking) directs the citta towards the object. Samma-sankappa of the eightfold Path directs the citta towards the nama or rupa which is the object fo mindfulness at that moment. It arises with the citta and falls away with the citta. Samma-sankappa accompanies the citta which knows a characteristic of nama or rupa when it appears. The direct knowledge of a characteristic which appears is different from the thinking about a reality which has passed already. Samma-sankappa destroys miccha-vitakka or wrong thinking.
A. How does it destroy wrong thinking?
B. Samma-sankappa of the eightfold Path arises with the citta which is mindful of nama or rupa. At that moment there is no wrong thinking. Afterwards wrong thinking can arise again, but in one who is on the eightfold Path it will eventually be destroyed.
A. I heard someone say that in order to develop mindfulness one should stop thinking; that one should passively watch the phenomena which appear at the present moment. Is this one way of eliminating miccha-vitakka?
B. When a person tried to stop thinking he is not on the eightfold Path. Moreover, how can we stop ourselves from thinking? All through our lives objects are presenting themselves through the senses and through the mind-door. Thinking is real. Why can there not be awareness of it? Why can it not be known as a kind of nama? Otherwise we will not see that it is 'anatta', not self.
When we think that we should act in this or that way in regard to our thoughts, we do not have right understanding. The moment we try to do something about our thinking it has fallen away, it already belongs to the past.
When there is awareness of a characteristic of nama or rupa, there is not at that moment 'somebody' who is trying to stop thinking, or who is watching phenomena. It is all very well to say that one does not think of a self, that one is passively watching, but the fact that one is trying to watch, even passively, proves that one is not on the eightfold Path.
A. I read that some of the factors of the eightfold Path are considered as sila (morality), some as samadhi (concentration) and others as panna (wisdom). Samma-ditthi (right understanding) and samma-sankappa (right thinking) are the wisdom of the eightfold Path. Why are they wisdom?
B. Samma-ditthi discerns the characteristic of the nama or rupa appearing at the present moment, and samma-sankappa 'directs' the citta to that object so that samma-ditthi can realize it. It is because samma-sankappa directs the citta to the object in the right way that it is included in the panna of the eightfold Path.
A. Samma-vaca or right speech, samma-kammanta or right action and samma-ajiva or right livelihood are the three factors which are the sila of the eightfold Path. I know that five precepts are sila, but what exactly is sila of the eightfold Path?
B. There is akusala sila and there is kusala sila. Our actions and speech are sila. As regards kusala sila, this is abstaining from wrong action and wrong speech. Wrong actions are those of killing, stealing and sexual misbehaviour; wrong speech is lying, slandering, rude speech and idle talk.
A. So is there the right speech and the right action of the eightfold Path when we abstain from wrong speech and wrong action?
B. When we abstain from wrong speech or wrong action but there is not at that time awareness of the characteristics of nama and rupa which appear, then there is not the right speech or the right action of the eightfold Path. There is wholesomeness, but not to the degree of the eightfold Path.
Only if the citta is accompanied by samma-sati and samma-ditthi of the eightfold Path at the moment we abstain from wrong speech or wrong action, is there right speech and right action of the eightfold Path.
A. How can I abstain from wrong speech? I find that when I am with other people who speak in an unwholesome way I am inclined to do the same.
B. So long as we are not yet arahats we well still speak in an unwholesome way. But the Buddha's teachings can be the condition for us to have less akusala in our life. When people speak in an unpleasant way about others or when they complain about disagreeable things which happen in life we may be inclined to follow their example. But when we have studied the teachings we will know when there are akusala cittas, and we will know the dangers of akusala. When we have learned to cultivate mindfulness it will be a condition for abstaining from wrong speech. Instead of having akusala cittas, compassion (karuna) for those who speak in the wrong way may arise; we will be more inclined to help others to have kusala cittas instead of akusala cittas. When there is awareness of a characteristic of nama or rupa while we are abstaining from wrong speech there is samma-vaca of the eightfold Path; the citta is accompanied by samma-ditthi and samma-sati of the eightfold Path.
A. We may know this in theory, but I find the practice of the teachings very difficult. I find I have spoken the wrong words before I realize it.
B. You can find out for yourself that when there is more mindfulness there are less conditions for wrong speech. Habits and accumulations can be changed. But 'self' cannot change one's habits and accumulations. The right understanding of the Dhamma and the practice of the Dhamma are the conditions for change. So we can then prove for ourselves that the Buddha's teachings are the truth; and our confidence in the teachings will be deeper.
A. Can you give an example of right action?
B. Suppose we are inclined to kill an insect which is stinging us, but instead we gently wipe it off and abstain from killing; at that moment we are performing sila. If there is awareness of a characteristic of nama or rupa which appears at that moment then there is samma-kammanta (right action) of the eightfold Path.
A. I know someone who says that he cannot help killing. When an insect bites him it is his reflex to kill it.
B. Mindfulness is a condition for having kusala cittas more often. Kusala cittas cannot be accompanied by dosa; they are accompanied by adosa instead of dosa. Adosa is loving-kindness (metta). We can verify in our life that when there is more mindfulness, kindness and compassion arise more often. We are more inclined to think of the happiness of other beings. Should we cause insects to have pain, should we destroy their lives? When there is more mindfulness, people will know how to perform many different kinds of wholesomeness in their actions, there speech and their thoughts. Thus we see the value of mindfulness in daily life.
A. What is samma-ajiva?
B. This cetasika prevents us from doing wrong actions in the course of our livelihood. The samma-ajiva of the eightfold Path is accompanied by samma-ditthi which knows a characteristic of nama or rupa. While one abstains and there is awareness of nama and rupa, one will know that it is not self which abstains.
A. It seems to me that samma-ajiva is the same as samma-vaca (right speech) and samma-kammanta (right action). What is the difference?
B. Samma-ajiva prevents us from wrong action and wrong speech as regards our way of earning a living.
A. Some people cannot help doing wrong things for their living. I heard of someone who has no other choice but to kill chickens in order to earn a living for his family. Every day he has to kill, but he says that he performs dana in order to compensate for his killing. Can he compensate in that way?
B. We cannot compensate for bad actions with good actions, because every deed brings about its appropriate result. The killing, which is akusala kamma, may cause an unhappy rebirth, even if we perform good deeds as well.
A. But this person cannot earn a living in any other way. He used to have another kind of business but he could not earn enough money to take care of his family. Some people have no choice; they have to do wrong actions for their livelihood.
B. Nothing in life happens without conditions. One's accumulated defilements cause one to have a profession such as a butcher, or someone who trades in arms or alcoholic drinks. These professions are wrong livelihood; they are conditions for akusala kamma. It is sati which could, one day, make one change from a profession which is wrong livelihood. People may think that it is impossible to change their profession, but if there is sati and panna there will be conditions for earning one's living without having to perform akusala kamma.
A. What about people who are not trading in the things you just mentioned but who are what we call 'in business'? I would think that if one is to make a profit one cannot always be telling the truth. Should business-men change their profession in order to be pure in their livelihood? I know someone who was formerly in business but has now changed his profession. He now works for a newspaper because he sees this profession as an opportunity to serve other people better.
B. The question whether or not a person is pure in his livelihood also depends on the individual. People who are in business may perform akusala kamma, as for instance, when they are dishonest and harm other people in the way they make their profit. But business people can have kusala cittas too. They may abstain from telling lies even though they know that this will cause them to have less profit. If there is awareness of nama and rupa while they are abstaining from telling lies there is samma-ajiva of the eightfold Path.
A. What about a professional soldier? Can he ever have samma-ajiva?
B. He can have akusala cittas and kusala cittas at different times. When he kills others he performs akusala kamma, but he may also perform wholesome deeds.
We read in the 'Maha-Mangala Sutta' (Sutta of the Great Blessings, Sutta-Nipata, Khuddaka Nikaya) about the greatest blessing. Some of them are: 'To support mother and father, to cherish wife and children, and to be engaged in peaceful occupation- this is the greatest blessing.'
Soldiers, however, can and should cultivate kusala kamma too. We can read in the Anguttara Nikaya (Book of the Fives, Chapter IV, par. 4) about Siha the general, who was a follower of the Buddha.
A. I think that those whose profession is the government service have more conditions for pure livelihood. They do not have to think about making a profit for themselves.
B. They may have many akusala cittas; they may have conceit, or they may think of their own success. It all depends on the individual. When we have chosen a profession, it shows that we have accumulations for that profession. That profession is our daily life. When we cultivate mindfulness it will be the condition for performing our work with kusala cittas more often. If we help others to understand Dhamma we serve society in the best way and we contribute to peace in the world.
A. But can someone who has to think of money all day be aware of nama and rupa?
B. Do you handle money during the day?
A. Yes, everybody does. It is part of our normal way of life.
B. Should you not be aware when looking at money? Do you think that there is anything which is not satipatthana?
A. When I look at money there is colour; when I touch it there is hardness or softness. But if I were aware only of those realities and did not know the value of the banknote I would very soon be poor. Even though I am inclined to think that awareness is very useful, I consider it to be a different section of life. I lead two kinds of lives: my life of awareness which I lead mostly at home when I am alone, and my business life in which I have to be practical.
B. Do you think that the Buddha said that there are times one should not be mindful? He exhorted people to be aware, no matter what they were doing.
A. But awareness is not always practical. For instance, when I am dialling the combination-lock of the safe in of my office I have to remember the numbers of the combination. If I were aware only of hardness, motion or colour, I could not open the safe. And while one is thinking there cannot be awareness.
B. Why can there not be awareness when you know the value of the banknote or when you remember the combination of the lock on the safe? Are there moments that there are not nama and rupa? I agree that you have to be practical, but does that mean that there cannot be awareness at the same time?
The Buddha's teachings are very practical. We read in the 'Anguttara Nikaya' (Book of the Eights, Chapter VI, par. 4, 'Longknee' ) about what the conditions are for material welfare and for spiritual welfare. Among the conditions for worldly progress is the 'accomplishment of watchfulness'. We read:
What is the accomplishment of watchfulness? Herein, Vyagghapajja, whatsoever wealth a householder is in possession of, obtained by dint of effort. collected by strength of arm, by the sweat of his brow, justly acquires by right means- such he looks after well by guarding and watching so that kings would not seize it, thieves would not steal, fire would not burn, water would not carry away, nor ill-disposed heirs remove. This is the accomplishment of watchfulness.
The Buddha would not teach anything which is not practical. There should be awareness not only of objects which appear through the five sense-door as well. Can you help knowing the value of a banknote? Is it a reality?
A. of course I know it, it is a reality.
B. Anything which is real can be the object of mindfulness. Some people think that there should be awareness only of some particular kinds of nama and rupa, such as hearing and sound. They think that knowing what an object is, as for instance, knowing the value of a banknote or knowing whether the traffic light is green or red, is not satipatthana. Does that not seem unnatural? I have heard someone say that while he is developing insight meditation he cannot recognize his friends or his parents. If one cannot recognize anything while one is being 'mindful' it means that one could not be aware during one's daily activities. It means that if one were to drive a car and be 'mindful' at the same time, one would not know when the traffic light is green and when it is red. That is not the right path. Developing the eightfold Path is developing right understanding of all realities of our daily life.
A. I still do not see how one can live one's daily life while one cultivates vipassana. I have heard that it is forbidden to take alcoholic drinks while one is practising vipassana.
B. No one can force another to abstain from drinking, nor can one force oneself, since it is not self who indulges in drinking or abstains from it but nama arising because of conditions. It is not self, but sati which keeps one from drinking. When sati has been accumulated more it is a condition for gradually becoming more detached from drinking. However, only the ariyan saint can observe the five precepts perfectly. People who are not ariyan saints may break them. For example, when there are conditions it could happen that we kill in order to protect our lives.
It is true that not only the studying of the teaching but all kinds of kusala are helpful for the cultivation of vipassana. But on the other hand when there is mindfulness more often it is a condition for performing all kinds of kusala, sila included. If people learn how to cultivate mindfulness, they will change their way of life and refrain from akusala kamma.
A. Thus mindfulness can bring about what I would consider a miracle, a transformation in character, is that right?
B. People want to change their characters but they do not know how to do it. Would you like to see a change in your character for the better? Is there a way? Everything occurs because of conditions. The condition for a great change in your life is vipassana, the right understanding of realities. One can see for oneself that while one develops the eightfold Path there are gradually some changes in one's character, even though one has not attained enlightenment.